18 August

Up In The Air image

Helium was discovered this day

So we are drinking a...

Up In The Air

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This day in 1868, the moon blotted out the sun, causing a total eclipse of the type that has panicked civilisations since time immemorial. Very far from panicking, however, was a French astronomer, Pierre Jules César Janssen, who had travelled all the way to India to set up with a spectroscope so he could try to work out what the sun was made from.

Noticing an unusual colour band in the sunlight as the moon crept across the face of the sun, he concluded there must be an unknown element in the sun, and went on to design a new scientific instrument to prove it.

Later that year, a British astronomer named Norman Lockyer would observe that self-same colour and propose the element be called helium, after Helios, the Greek name for the sun. It was 1895 before someone finally isolated helium on earth and balloons became a thing of joy.

Today, killjoys suggest we should ease off on the balloons as we are running out of helium, which we need for MRI scanners, radiation detectors and suchlike. And so, we are marking today with an Up in the Air, a vodka-based sweet and sour treat we discovered in Berlin.

Today is also Meriwether Lewis' birthday

On this day in 1774, the explorer, soldier and governor Meriwether Lewis was born. He would go on to map much of what is today the United States, on an epic, two-year-plus expedition that brought him and his co-explorer William Clark all the way to the Pacific.

Yet Lewis did not live to enjoy the fruits of his success. Aged only 35, burdened with debt, grappling with a drinking problem, and struggling with his friendship with Thomas Jefferson, he was found dead in an inn near Nashville, Tennessee. Was it suicide, or murder? Friends at the time believed suicide, but an exhumation of his body suggested murder. Whichever was the case, Meriwether Lewis deserves a toast: we're raising a glass of Midnight Over Tennessee, best described as a minty and chocolaty Tennessee whisky-based Espresso Martini.

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